Sunday, April 23, 2017

Pic of the Week

A foul ball bounces back to hit
Albert Pujols in the head

An interesting set of numbers so far for the great Pujols, who is, at age 37, clearly not the monster he was in St. Louis.

In his first 17 games, Pujols had a slash line of .203/.247/.319. He also had 14 RBIs.

Ah, you say, he's coming through with men on base. Not really; he's slashing .208/.269/.375 with men in scoring position. That's better than his overall numbers, but not a lot.

Pujol's RBIs are more because he's hitting behind Mike Trout than anything he's doing.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Walk this way

The Twins won Friday night. They won because they scored six runs in the sixth inning, and they scored six runs in part because the first three hitters that inning drew walks.

The Twins lead the majors in walks drawn so far. They aren't doing much else particularly well at the plate, but they are drawing walks.

In 2016 the Twins drew 513 walks, just a bit above the major league average (503). In 2015 they drew 439, well below the MLB average (469). In 2014, they were second in the majors in walks drawn, which was a big part of why they were a potent offense. (They were lousy at run prevention in 2014, but they could score runs.)

The 2017 Twins so far seem fairly good at preventing runs. If they keep drawing walks, they'll eventually score more runs. Lots of baserunners = lots of runs.





Friday, April 21, 2017

Feeling a draft

Baseball America on Thursday released Mock Draft 2.0. This time they have the Twins bypassing Hunter Greene with the first overall pick for Brendan McKay, LHP-1B at the University of Louisville.

John Manuel:

Rumors of the Twins floating deals with several players are circulating, with players as disparate as Southern California prep Royce Lewis to Virginia first baseman Pavin Smith. But the least controversial player on the board is Louisville’s two-way star Brendan McKay, whom the Twins would pick as a pitcher. 
....
Hunter Greene, the top prep player on the board and owner of a 100 mph fastball, has had an up-and-down spring, and the rumors of he and his family attempting to maneuver his way to the No. 3 pick with the Padres are a poorly kept secret. The Padres’ throwing program is more in line with Greene’s program, and it’s on the West Coast, among other advantages. Greene isn’t pitching this week in the Boras Classic and is widely believed to be shutting down as a pitcher in another attempt to move down to the third pick.
My at-a-distance sense on the choice between Greene and McKay is that Greene should be the pick on the basis that he has the higher ceiling. I have seen reports on McKay describing him as a No. 3 starter -- which is not to be sneered at, but doesn't evoke daydreams of a dominant, Hall of Fame caliber starter.

But McKay is also described as sufficiently polished that he could pitch almost immediately in the majors. Low ceiling, perhaps, than Greene, but also a higher floor.




About seven weeks until the draft.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Still an efficient defense

The Twins had a rainout Wednesday and their first truly poor game of the season on Tuesday. Their record has subsided from a 100-win pace to .500. And Robbie Grossman has gone from zero innings in the field to a pair of starts in right.

So I figured it was a good time to check the updated defensive efficiency stats for the Twins. This was the major topic of the Monday print column, for which I used the number listed on Baseball Reference through last Saturday's games. The Twins led the majors at that point, having turned 78.6 percent of balls in play into outs.

As of this morning, B-R had the Twins still leading the majors in defensive efficiency at .763. That's more than 100 percentage points higher than Cleveland, which sits last of the 30 teams, and 17 percentage points ahead of second-place Miami.

It's also, to be sure, a drop-off of 23 percentage points in three games. As noted in the Wednesday post, it's early in the season, and the stats haven't had time to stabilize. I do think this defense has a chance to be quite good, but the continued deployment of Grossman and Danny Santana in the outfield won't help.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Here's an indication of how fragile the statistics are this early in the season: The Twins gave up nine earned runs Tuesday nignt (and two unearned ones), and their team ERA rose almost a half run,.

---

Joe Posnanski wrote the other day about what he calls "Teddies" -- batted balls that, according to Statcast have at least a 40 percent chance if being hits that are instead caught. (It;s near the end of the longer linked piece, but it's there).

Joe Mauer, with seven, is one of the leaders in Teddies, according to Pos. His luck hasn't been as bad as Nicolas Castellanos', but it hasn't been good either.

If three of the seven drop in, Mauer's batting average would be 47 points higher. Again, an indication of how little weight the stats should carry this early in the year.

---

The news Tuesday that Pirates star Starling Marte had tested positive for a PED was a bit of a stunner. And since the specific substance (nandrolone) is said to be injected, I find it difficult to buy the implied claim in Marte's statement that it was a mistake.

So he's gone for 80 games. Infielder Jung Ho Kang, another of Pittsburgh's better players, is in South Korea, unable to secure a work visa after his latest DWI conviction. It's not looking good for the Pirates this year.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

An all-middle-reliever pitching staff

About the time Kyle Gibson was getting pulled from yet another of his "is that all there is" starts Monday -- 5.2 innings, eight hits, three runs -- somebody in my Twitter feed opined that he'd make a fine middle reliever.

A few innings later, Tyler Duffey wrapped up his day's work: 2.2 scoreless innings. Duffey, of course, was a starter last year for the Twins and now is in their bullpen. He has now worked 8.2 innings this season without allowing a run.

Would Gibson be better out of the bullpen than as a starter? Probably, if only because almost everybody's stuff is better in short bursts.

All of which led me once again to one of my favorite outside-the-box ideas: A pitching staff without traditional starters.

Imagine a nine-man staff, divided into three groups of three pitchers. Each pitcher in each group works three innings at time, and the groups form a three-day rotation. In theory, you'd have nine pitchers making 54 appearances and throwing 162 innings apiece.

In theory. This outline assumes no extra-inning games, no scheduling headaches such as doubleheaders, and -- perhaps most unlikely -- that every one of those 486 appearances are successful enough that nobody needs to get pulled before completing his three-inning assignment. And history suggests that 160-plus innings is a career-sapping workload for a reliever.

So nine pitchers probably aren't enough to make this work. Maybe 11 or 12 is. (Even 12 would be fewer pitchers than the Twins are carrying now.) But there are other problems.

Pretend that the Twins decided to do this. Are veteran starters like Ervin Santana going to be happy working three innings at a time? Do you want to pay Santana and Phil Hughes $26 million combined for 162 innings?

And if you trade your established starters so you can commit to this radical idea, what happens if it fails? Answer: You get fired. And your organization is probably set back for years.

Back in his final years in Oakland, Tony LaRussa experimented with something like this idea, and he abandoned it about two weeks in. It probably takes a manager of LaRussa's stature to try it and not be immediately crucified by the media or abandoned by his players.

Or an expansion team, if we ever see one of them again. The roster compiled by an expansion team should be filled with pitchers willing to take any role to be in the majors, even that of a three-inning starter (who can get a loss but not a win).

Monday, April 17, 2017

Springtime, and the pitching is easy (or easier)

A tangent untaken, or at least not explored, in the Monday print column:

So far in the still-young season, it's tempting to say scoring is down. Entering Sunday's play, major league teams were averaging 4.25 runs per game. (The Twins were scoring 4.73 and allowing 2.45.) In 2016, for the full season, teams averaged 4.48.

But ... these averages are not directly comparable. The 2017 numbers are, obviously, based on early April, probably the unkindest weather of the season for hitters. In games of March/April last year, teams averaged 4.23 runs a game -- almost exactly what they were averaging this year.

The Twins have played a lot of day games so far and have not had a game further south than Chicago. While I wouldn't call conditions so far brutal -- they've certainly had harsher springs than this one -- run scoring will almost certainly pick up as the weather warms.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Pic of the Week

The Dodgers unveiled their first ballpark sculpture
Saturday: a larger-than-life bronze of Jackie Robinson
going into a slide.

Saturday was Jackie Robinson Day -- the anniversary of his 1947 major league debut, breaking the long-standing color bar in baseball and advancing the cause of civil rights -- and the Los Angeles Dodgers marked the occasion by unveiling a Robinson sculpture outside the stadium.

Robinson's entire major league career came with the Brooklyn Dodgers, of course, but his ties to Los Angeles are significant as well. He starred in multiple sports at UCLA -- baseball was arguably his worst sport -- after high school and junior college in Pasadena. (He was born in Georgia but moved to southern California an infant.)


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Rod Carew and his donor

Mary Reuland, left, mother of Konrad Reuland,
embraces Rod Carew , the recipient of Konrad's
heart and kidney.
The story of Rod Carew and his heart donor is, of course, a tremendously moving one. How could it not be? All heart transplant stories are: Someone dies, and someone else gets a new lease on life as a result.

Still, this line from the above-linked Mercury News (San Jose, California) story about Konrad Reuland, then 11, meeting Carew at his school got me:

That was the first time Konrad gave his heart to Rod Carew.



Friday, April 14, 2017

"Not enough ground balls"

Dan Gladden spent a goodly part of the early innings Thursday complaining that the Twins were hitting too many balls in the air. Detroit starter Jordan Zimmermann was getting his outs on strikeouts and pop ups; the Twins needed to start hitting balls on the ground, or so the radio analyst insisted.

He stopped around the time of the Twins second home run, certainly by the third.

Here's the thing: Ground balls aren't that good for hitters.

According to Fangraphs's data (numbers from 2014):

TypeAVGISOwOBA
GB.239.020.220
LD.685.190.684
FB.207.378.335

(ISO is "isolated power" -- the difference between batting average and slugging percentage, or how many extra bases the hits are gaining. wOBA is "weighted onbase average," which I won't attempt to explain because linear weights make my head hurt, but is said by sabermetricans to be an effective measurement of offensive production. My understanding is that the new Twins front office uses wOBA rather than OPS.)

The point is pretty obvious: You want to hit line drives. There is a slightly higher batting average on ground balls than flyballs, but flyballs are a lot more productive because darn few grounders turn into home runs. 

The Twins had one groundout against Zimmermann on Tuesday (4.2 innings). They scored five runs. They had four groundouts gainst Shane Greene (two innings). They scored zero.

I am reminded of a line in "Pennant Race," Jim Brosnan's journal of the 1961 Cincinnati Reds unlikely pennant winning season. The Reds are in a slump, the team is having a players only meeting, and somebody says: If you gotta hit a ground ball, knock the second baseman over with it. 

Hit the ball hard, good things will happen

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Three thoughts

Three thoughts from Wednesday's Twins loss:

* Same Old Gibby. I may turn this into a standard acronym, SOG.

Kyle Gibson was really impressive during spring training, and I started to have hope that his revised mechanics would unlock finally make him a pitcher worthy of the 14th overall pick.

He was excellent for three innings Wednesday. In the fourth his command just vanished, and it was only a matter of time. SOG. Five runs allowed in the fourth, and he didn't come out for the fifth.

* It was Byron Buxton's turn to sit Wednesday -- Paul Molitor has used eight different batting orders in eight games -- and it was noteworthy that Eddie Rosario played center field, with Danny Santana in left.

In previous seasons, Santana would have been in center. This suggests that Molitor has concluded (or realized) that Santana is a lesser defensive outfielder than Rosario,

* In a somewhat related note, Robbie Grossman has yet to play even an inning in the field.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

The more I see and know of Hector Santiago, the more intriguing I find him.

He took the loss Tuesday, but pitched well (6+ innings, two earned runs). Paul Molitor pulled him after Jorge Polanco booted a grounder to start the seventh inning, but he'd only thrown 84 pitches. (The Twins may believe he still needs to stretch out after his WBC bullpen work for Puerto Rico, or they may figure that as long as they're carrying 13 pitchers they might as well use some of them.)

So he's two-for-two in quality starts.

What's unusual about him is the breadth of his repertoire. He told Bert Blyleven in a radio segment aired before Tuesday game that he's up to six pitches (four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change, slider, screwball, cutter) -- and working on a sidearm delivery that would add four more to the arsenal if and when he breaks it out in a game.

That approach used to be common among big league pitchers, but that was about 70 years ago. Today's pitching theory is more focused on a executing a tighter selection of pitches consistently.

---

A few Twins-related Q&A from a Keith Law (ESPN) chat from last week:

Brett : How many of Buxton, Sano, Kepler, Rosario and Polanco will become above average everyday regulars?
Keith Law: Yes, yes, yes, no, maybe. 

Kevin: If you're the Twins, how do you pass on Hunter Greene? 102 at 17 y/o? Lord. They need pitching, but he gives you two potential players in one to bank on. Also, Falvey known for developing pitchers in CLE ? great match. Kid seems like he "gets it" too.
Keith Law: I think you take him, you send him out this summer as a shortstop, with the plan to pitch him in 2018. Maybe he does something either way as a hitter in the GCL to change your mind or reinforce it.

Jim: Travis Blankenhorn look like the future 3B of the Twins?
Keith Law: You know, I saw him last week in Fort Myers, and 1) oh my god is he huge and 2) he actually wasn’t that bad at third for a guy his size. Maybe he’s a 2b instead, but he can scorch the ball.

---

Thirteen pitchers on the Twins roster mean just three reserves for any given game, and Paul Molitor felt a bit constricted as he tried to work an extra run out of their ninth inning rally.




OK. To be sure, Molitor hasn't had to go to the 'pen nearly as often as they were expecting. Michael Tonkin made just his second appearance Tuesday. Craig Breslow has pitched once.

The question becomes: Who goes? Justin Haley is a Rule 5 guy; he either stays or is lost. Tonkin is out of options; he wasn't particularly high on my list of candidates, but he might be the best "stuff" pitcher in the 'pen. Breslow is long out of options. Taylor Rogers and Tyler Duffey are optionable, but Molitor is using them in game situations. Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Pressly, Matt Belisle -- they aren't going anywhere.

My guess: If they make a move to add a hitter, it will be at Tonkin's expense.

My further guess: If they do cut back to 12 pitchers, that's when they'll get a string of short starts.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Yadier Molina, Joe Mauer and the Hall of Fame

Yadier Molina last week got a contract extension through 2020 from the St. Louis Cardinals. He turns 35 in July, and he's been worked pretty hard behind the plate, so this doesn't strike me as a particularly wise investment. On the other hand, he has for a dozen years been at the center of a team that has won two World Series, lost two others and been in the postseason nine times. He's a franchise icon. Pay the man.

Yadi's new deal spurred an internet debate over his merits as a Hall of Fame candidate. I'm a "Big Hall" guy, so I haven't any problem with seeing him get a plaque at Cooperstown, but there are other catchers I'd rather see inducted first.

A guy named Scott Lindholm tweeted out the above graphic as evidence that Molina is a bit shy with the bat for the Hall.




(I will note that I don't see Ted Simmons, one of the catchers I'd rather see inducted than Molina, on this graph. I assume he would be in the upper left quadrant, with the likes of Joe Torre, Mike Piazza and Jorge Posada -- good hitting catchers who weren't all that good at catching.) (Late addendum: Simba is apparently obscured in the pile with Posada and Victor Martinez.)

Molina is down in the lower right -- excellent receivers whose hitting was below average. The further to the right, the better the defense; the further up, the better the hitting.

I'm not competent to defend the Baseball Reference fielding runs metric, but I will say that these graph points make intuitive sense, by and large.

You'll notice that that Hall of Fame catchers, with the exception of Mike Piazza, are all in the upper right quadrant -- good hitters, good defense. The only eligible guys in that quadrant who aren't in are all in the corner next to the intersection of average: Bill Freehan, Thuman Munson, Sherm Lollar.

And notice that X up there between Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench. That X signifies an active player, and it's Joe Mauer.

Mauer, in my view, did the heavy lifting for the Hall in his 20s. His 30s have been a letdown, and, of course, he will never catch again. And he's not likely to compile the big bulk numbers the voters seem to demand of hitters. A lot of people believe Mauer will fall short of the Hall, and they might be right.

But the generation of voters who would be likely to turn thumbs down on Mauer for lacking the home runs and RBIs of the HOF catchers represented in this graphic is dwindling. The percentage of the electorate that embrace B-R's metrics is only going to rise.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Love the glove

Two runs a game.

Six games into the 2017 season, that's what the Twins opponents are averaging. Two measly runs per game.

Six games isn't much; it's two series, and one of those series was against a team that went into teardown mode this winter (the Chicago White Sox). Minnesota's 5-1 record may prove a mirage. But what we've seen so far is a far cry from the pitching-and-defense ineptitude of 2016.

That the outfield is impressing afield shouldn't be a surprise. Nothing falls but raindrops is supposedly their mantra, and they are living up to it. (Those calling for Byron Buxton to hit the bench over his struggles at the plate should remember: Were Danny Santana playing center field on Friday, Phil Hughes probably doesn't get out of the first inning.)

But Jorge Polanco has been far better at shortstop than I expected. Miguel Sano had a rough game Saturday at third -- two errors, one on a botched rundown that directly resulted in a run -- but other than that, the infield defense has also been superb.

If this pattern of stellar defense continues, 5-1 may not be a mirage.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Pic of the Week

Yadier Molina had enough stickum on his chest protector
to defy gravity Thursday.

Despite the smile on Yadier Molina's face, this was a significant play in the winning rally by the Chicago Cubs on Thursday. Molina missed a bounced strike three in the seventh inning, then couldn't find the ball because it clung to his chest protector. That bizarre play was followed by a three-run homer

Molina belittled reporters after the game for asking about the sticky stuff on his equipment, but there's one obvious reason to have so much of it that a ball can't drop off: So that he can load balls with a foreign substance to aid his pitchers. This is hardly unheard of for catchers; Jim Bouton in Ball Four discribed various ways Elston Howard scuffed balls for Whitey Ford back in the 1960s.

MLB, it was reported Friday night, has decided not to discipline Molina. I don't get it. Maybe the loss was deemed punishment enough.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Miguel Sano, 1B, and other bench thoughts

Paul Molitor has deployed four different lineups in four games. Last night's lineup not only got Chris Gimenez his first start behind the plate, but featured Miguel Sano at first base, a position he is not believed to have worked at even once during spring training.

Molitor himself donned a glove during the pregame warmups to supervise Sano taking grounders and throws at first.

The expectation in March had been that either Byung Ho Park or Kennys Vargas would be on the roster as the DH and backup first baseman. When they were both sent to Triple A Rochester, my expectation was that Max Kepler would be the first baseman when Joe Mauer sat.

There are advantages to shifting Sano to first rather than Kepler. The main one is that it gives Eduardo Escobar a chance to play (at third). Of the three reserves (Escobar, Gimenez and Danny Santana), Escobar is pretty clearly the one who with the best chance at being a productive regular.

Kepler -- a better outfielder than Santana or primary designated hitter Robbie Grossman -- made a nice catch in right Friday night. Sano doubled home the run that put the Twins up for good and didn't obviously mess up any plays at first. Escobar walked, singled and scored a run. Even Gimenez doubled.

So Friday's lineup shuffle worked marvelously for Molitor, and the Twins are 4-0.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Win expectations revisited

The Twins won again Thursday. They remain on pace to go 162-0, which would be some kind of record record.

I have been in recent days re-reading Bill James' "Guide to Baseball Managers," a book that came out about 20 years ago. I cracked it open to revisit his research on optimizing batting orders (see this Monday print column and this post) and kept reading a few pages at a time during my dinner breaks at work.

Last night I ran across a formula for establishing the "win expectations" for a specific team, and since the question of what we should expect from the Twins was the subject of a post earlier in the week I thought I would run it for the 2017 Twins.

The formula is: 50 percent the previous year record; 25 percent a .500 record (because all teams tend to head for .500); 12.5 percent the record from two seasons back; and 12.5 percent the record from the season before that.

So ...

2016: 59-103 x 4 =  236-412
.500: 81-81 x 2 = 162-162
2015: 83-79 x 1 = 83-79
2014: 70-92 x 1 = 70-92

Total: 551-745, a .425 winning percentage. Which, over 162 games, comes to 69-93. Which is three games better that what I suggested would be a baseline expectation for this team, and considerably more likely than 162-0.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Two and Zero

Just 160 more wins and the Twins will have the undefeated season.

Two games is, obviously, insignificant in terms of drawing conclusions, but 2-0 is a whole lot better than 0-2, and it's been a long time since the Twins did 2-0 to open a season.

As light as the sample size is, the Kansas City Royals have convinced me already that what had been their greatest strength -- the depth and quality of their bullpen -- is now a significant weakness.

The 2014-15 Royals went to consecutive World Series, winning one, with a mediocre rotation because they had a relief corps that could routinely strangle lineups for three, four, five innings a game. The rotation now is, if anything, weaker with the death of Yordano Ventura, and the bullpen is too thin to compensate.

That may be a negative conclusion, but it's a conclusion nevertheless. I don't know that the Twins are going to contend in 2017, but I'm sure the Royals won't.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Reality, perception and the gap between

From a Pioneer Press story following Monday's opener, a piece on why the 2017 Twins roster is made up largely of pieces from the 2016 disaster:

With better fundamentals and more success late in games, Molitor told (the new front office chiefs), the Twins would be much better than their 59 wins without dramatic changes. After checking the analytics, Falvey and Levine bought into the message.

A fellow who was part of the group with which I attended Monday's game isn't buying into it. He repeatedly insisted Monday that this year's model will finish several games worse than 2016's squad.

Not likely. The 2016 team's won-loss record was markedly worse than their underlying numbers suggest. The "pythagorean theorum" devised decades ago by Bill James to calculate an expected record from runs scored and runs allowed says the Twins "should" have gone 66-96, which is not a good record at all but is still seven games better than the 59-103 they did record.

That wasn't the worst underperformance of 2016 (Tampa Bay missed by nine games), but it's close.

The 59-103 mark is real. The 66-96 pythagorean record is probably a better indicator of how bad the team actually was.

The point being ... to get to the 109 or so losses the guy on the bus claims to anticipate, the new, younger Twins would have to decline probably not only six games in results but another seven or so in the underlying stats.

In a sense, Paul Molitor is trying to catch a falling knife. If the 2017 Twins finish with a 66-96 record, that seven-game improvement is likely to be discounted by Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, the manager's new bosses. Sixty-six wins is probably the baseline. A 70-92 record would be an 11 game improvement -- and less than that in the eyes of Molitor's most important beholders, and likely in Molitor's estimation as well.

There's a line of thought that Molitor is being set up to fail by the new front office, which inherited him as manager. That implies a bad faith I doubt is actually at work. If Molitor -- who is in the last year of his contract -- is dismissed after the season, it will be after a legitimate opportunity and, presumably, legitimate failure. We haven't gotten there yet.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Thoughts from the Twins opener

* Kramarczuk's is still so good.

* The first-level concourse was almost impassible, a chronic condition on opening day when Target Field is sold out and a goodly number of fans flock to the standing room areas and the heat lamps. It may have appeared on TV that there were a lot of empty seats. I can assure you, the people were there.

* The Kansas City bullpen ain't what it was in their World Series years.

* The lineup against lefty Danny Duffy was ... restricted. The Twins had, by necessity and choice, four lefties in the lineup, none of whom at this point in their careers should be expected to be productive against a southpaw of Duffy's quality. Joe Mauer slashed .224/.291/.319 against lefties lat year; he hit cleanup. Jason Castro slashed .149/.237/.241; he hit sixth. Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario slashed .203/.273/.322 and .263/.305/.289 respectively; they hit eighth and ninth.

The problem: With Robbie Grossman as the DH, there is no viable right-handed hitting alternative on the roster to Mauer, Kepler and Rosario. Chris Gimenez would be a reasonable platoon mate to Castro, but Paul Molitor has indicated that he's not going with a strict platoon behind the plate. And, to be sure, even Earl Weaver wouldn't be platooning Kepler or Rosario at their ages. So we're likely to see more of this.

* The game itself turned on a pair of bunts, which merits a deep dive.

Bottom of the seventh, 1-1 tie, the Royals pull  Duffy. In 2014 and April of 2015, that probably means the gas-throwing Kelvim Herrera, with Wade Davis for the eighth and Greg Holland in the ninth, and the Twins' best shot at winning is getting to extra innings. But Holland blew his arm out late in 2015, and Davis is a Cub now, and Herrera is the closer. As said above, the Royals bullpen isn't what it was.

So with a switch-hitter (Jorge Polanco) followed by a pair of left-handed hitters (Kepler and Rosario) due up, K.C. manager Ned Yost goes to Matt Strahm, a lefty making his major league debut.

Polanco singles. Kepler is asked to bunt. He fouls his first attempt, and the 2016 Twins pattern of horrendous bunting seems very much in continuation. But his next one is ideal, and Strahm, despite help from the first base ump, can't throw him out. Thanks to replay, two on, no out, and Rosario is asked to bunt. He gets it down for a sac. The Royals put Brian Dozier on, and then Strahm walks Robbie Grossman to force in a run ...

But it's the bunting I want to comment on, not four walks in five hitters. Let's say that Kepler merely got a sac bunt, not a hit. In that case, Rosario has to hit, not bunt, against the lefty and the whole inning changes. A mere sacrifice from Kepler puts the inning squarely on Rosario and Grossman (there's no way Yost was going to pitch to Dozier with first base open). 

For that matter, I question Yost's decision to stick with Strahm after Rosario's bunt with Dozier-Grossman-Byron Buxton coming up -- two righties with switch-hitter who is better against lefties. Peter Moylan (who did come in to strike out Buxton) might have fared better; He couldn't have done worse than Strahm.

Seeing the two young left-handed hitters get the bunt down against a lefty was encouraging, and the inning certainly broke in the Twins favor. But they needed some help to make it work.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Opening Day(s)

The regular season began Sunday afternoon -- with a game in St. Petersburg, Florida, and a game in Phoenix, each of which involved two teams that hold their spring trainings in those areas. Which is one way to reduce travel expenses.

And there was a night game in St. Louis, which doesn't fit that weak joke, but did involve the defending champions.

I'll just make one comment on Sunday's outcomes: It's always good to see the Yankees at the bottom of the standings.

And it's even better to see the season underway.

As I said in the Monday print column, I'm not particularly optimistic about the Twins' 2017 chances. But I'll be at Target Field this afternoon for the opener, and given the vagaries of April weather in Minnesota in general and today's damp forecast in particular, that's a gesture of optimism.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Pic of the Week

The Atlanta Braves take the field at their new stadium
in suburban Cobb County for an exhibition with the Yankees.

The first official game in SunTrust Park isn't for a couple more weeks, but -- as is typically the case with new stadiums -- it got a test run last week with a couple exhibition games. It will get another test next week with a college game.

What nobody anticipated was the collapse of a freeway overpass that will shut down a major traffic artery in what is already one of the nation's most congested metropolitan areas. It's gonna be a mess.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

An indirect Rule 5 trade to monitor

One of the 13 pitchers coming north for Monday's opener is Justin Haley, acquired in the Rule 5 draft. As you probably know, Rule 5 picks must be carried on the active roster all season, which makes Haley essentially use or lose.

In the same draft in which the Twins landed Haley, the Cincinnati Reds selected catcher Stuart Turner from the Twins. Turner will open the season as Cincy's No. 2 catcher.

I don't know if Turner was the guy the Twins left off their 40 in order to make a Rule 5 selection -- it's certainly possible that somebody else would have been the next player protected -- but in a sense the Twins gave up Turner for Haley.

A similar exchange occured in 2015, when the Twins lost left-handed pitcher Sean Gilmartin in Rule 5 and got J.R. Graham. Gilamartin had a better 2015 for the Mets than Graham did with the Twins, and the Twins waived Graham last year. Now they have neither, and my guess is that Gilmartin has a better chance to be a useful pitcher.

Turner was a third-round draft pick by the Twins in 2013. He's a light hitter but well-regarded defensively. But Mitch Garver (ninth round in the same draft) vaulted over him last season in the Twins estimation.

It's far from certain that Haley and Turner will both make it through the season. Turner's fate may ultimately depend on the health of Devin Mesoraco, their intended No. 1 catcher who has proven injury prone and is coming off shoulder surgery. He's opening the season on the disabled list, and even if/when he returns, the Reds may be wary of losing Turner and then seeing Mesoraco get hurt again.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Park banged

13 pitchers and what do you get?

Not, to the apparent surprise and consternation of those around Twins training camp, ByungHo Park:




A few thoughts from one who would have kept Park:

* If the Twins are opening with a 13-man pitching staff, they're almost certain to maintain a 13-man pitching staff all season.

* We probably should have seen a 13-man staff coming. On Wednesday Ervin Santana, the obvious opening day starter, couldn't get through five innings. Hector Santiago, who starts today against the Triple A squad, has all of 13 Grapefruit League innings. The post-surgical Phil Hughes has struggled more than impressed this month. And the Twins have few off-days in their early April schedule.

Bottom line: The Twins right now can't expect that their starters are going to eat innings.

* That said, there was an obvious alternative to sending Park to Triple A: dumping Danny Santana.

Park may be a one-tool player, but that tool -- power -- plays. Santana does nothing well enough to put him in the game to do it.

Park isn't on the 40-man roster, and Santana is out of options, so doing it this way keeps both in the organization. But I don't see a lot of value in keeping Santana around. He's third-string everywhere.

* A co-worker was jeering Thursday evening at the notion of Robbie Grossman as the base DH. It's not as ridiculous as Grossman's play in left field as 2016 wound down, and it's what I expected to emerge when spring training opened.

Grossman lacks Park's power, but he does get on base, and that was a significant failing in the Twins lineup last season.

* This does leave the lineup vulnerable to left-handed pitching, with no significant right-handed alternative to Joe Mauer, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, each of whom struggled against southpaws last season. Two of them were going to play against lefties even with Park around; now all three will. And if Paul Molitor is as reluctant to platoon Jason Castro as I suspect he will be, that will make four exploitable lineup spots for lefties.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Roster not set yet

The Twins didn't set their opening roster Wednesday, They did trim two more pitchers, Alex Wimmers and Nick Tepesch, both non-roster invitees.


I'm not impressed, but all bullpens are in a state of flux. There will be changes. 


Not really sure what that means. It's a lot easier to determine the roles with this collection than it was last year, when Tonkin was jammed into a long-relief role that never fit his skill set. Rule-5 pick Haley fits that role. 

Anyway ...

There remain a few "battles" to be decided: DH (it will be ByungHo Park, not Kennys Vargas), backup catcher (it will be Chris Gimenez, not John Ryan Murphy) and fifth starter (where the conventional wisdom has Tyler Duffey beating out Aldaberto Mejia, although I'm not so sure about that). Supposedly those announcements will come today.

I suspect one holdup is how to clear spots on the 40 man roster for Park and Gimenez. One can be gotten by putting Glen Perkins on the 60-day disabled list. The other will require releasing or waiving somebody, and which somebody may be a point of internal disputation.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Notes quotes and comment

Two more cuts from Twins camp on Tuesday: the suddenly homer-prone Buddy Boshers and non-roster invitee Tommy Field. Boshers was optioned out, Field reassigned.

Boshers' departure, and Ryan O'Rourke's injury, pretty much secures a bullpen spot for Taylor Rogers, and I'm fine with that. My sense is that Rogers is the better pitcher, but, as I said before, I don't know that I can prove it.

Field ... I never considered him a candidate for a utility job, and I'm a bit puzzled that he made it into the final week of camp.

More cuts -- and something at least close to a definitive opening day roster -- expected today.

---

An interesting piece here by Grant Brisbee, who found video of two games, one in 1984 and the other 2014, with almost exactly the same number of pitches, baserunners, runs, mid-inning pitching changes. The 1984 game took 2 hours 31 minutes; the 2014 game took 3 hours six minutes.

Why the difference?

I was certain that Brisbee would find that the difference is in the commercial breaks. Not really.:

Based on one unscientific deep dive into a pair of similar games, though, the biggest problem with the pace of play is, well, the pace of play. Pitchers don’t get rid of the ball like they used to. Hitters aren’t expecting them to get rid of the ball like they used to. It adds a couple minutes to every half-inning, which adds close to a half-hour.

---

Toby Gardenhire was named to the Rochester Red Wings coaching staff. The son of the former big-league manager was already part of the player development system, but now the Triple A team has an extra full-time coach.

This is almost certainly rooted in the auto accident early in spring training in which Mike Quade, the Rochester manager, was rear-ended and wound up needing shoulder surgery. He can't throw batting practice. Neither, because of a shoulder injury of his own, can hitting coach Chad Allen. There is a certain amount of physical labor involved in coaching. Young Gardenhire will get to do a lot of it.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

More on batting orders

The Monday print column explored some of the questions and issues involved in drawing up a batting order for the Twins. Here's a tangent I left out:

Which inning do you suppose has the most runs scored? For most teams -- for the league as whole -- it's the first inning. American League teams last year scored 1,326 runs in the first inning. The next highest: the fifth inning (1,308). Third highest: the third inning. And the inning with the fewest runs (excluding the ninth, which the home team often doesn't hit) is the second (1,166).

This makes sense, because the first inning is the only inning in which the lineup is set up as the manager idealizes it. And if the best hitters are arrayed at the top of the order, that leaves the weaker ones at the bottom -- and they're going to hit in the second inning. One could boost the even-numbered innings by moving some good hitters lower, but that ultimately takes at-bats away from whoever is lowered (about 13 plate appearances a year per lineup slot).

Second question: You may expect that the No. 1 spot in the order leads off the most innings, because it automatically does to start the game, and you would be correct. Which lineup spot leads off the second most innings?

The answer is No. 5. Which is interesting because the stereotypical No. 5 hitter is pretty much the opposite of a leadoff hitter. The stereotypical No. 5 hitter is a slow right-handed hitter with power but lacking on on-base skills. It's a hitter better suited to finishing trouble than starting it -- but he's often tasked with starting it. (For the 2016 Twins, the revolving door in the fifth slot combined for the second lowest OBP, better than only the No. 9 slot.)

Oddly, the 2016 Twins didn't follow the usual pattern of runs scored. Their most productive inning was the third (106 runs), followed by the fifth (95). The first tied with the seventh for fourth place (78), although the Twins lost out on a seventh inning once, so on an average basis the seventh was ever so slightly more productive.

I suspect this is connected to using Brian Dozier as the leadoff hitter so much. Their best power hitter was guaranteed to have nobody on base for his first at-bat. They had to turn the lineup over to have any chance of having somebody on for Dozier,

Batting orders probably have just a marginal effect on runs scored, but managers feed off marginal advantages. I'm not convinced Paul Molitor's batting orders last year maximized the possibilities.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The weekend cuts

The Twins made a handful of moves over the weekend:

Pitcher Jose Berrios was optioned to Triple A; pitcher Drew Rucinski, a non-roster invitee, was reassigned to minor league camp; and outfielder Drew Stubbs, another NRI, was released at his request after being told he would not make the 25-man roster.

There are those who think Berrios lost out on the rotation by spending two-plus weeks with Team Puerto Rico and not pitching much. I think Berrios' spring training fate was sealed early in the offseason, when pitching coach Neil Allen designed a fastball-location program and said that it would be a factor in promotions,

Berrios has impressive velocity, but he leaves too many pitches over the heart of the plate. The Twins made a point of stockpiling rotation options. Trevor May got hurt and Ryan Vogelsong failed to impress, but there are still Aldaberto Mejia and Tyler Duffey, Justin Haley and Nick Tepesch. Berrios had to demonstate fastball command this spring, and he didn't; even if he had, he may have needed one or two more guys to get hurt/fail.

I thought at the start of camp that Stubbs had a chance to make this team, but his chronic contact issues did him in again. He's a four-tool player, but the the hit tool is so inadequate that it makes his power and speed pretty much useless. I think there's a real good chance he'll be back; he's going to try to find a major league team that will give him a bench job, and I doubt he'll find one. I make it at least 50-50 that he plays center field in Rochester next month.

J.B. Shuck is still in camp, but I can't see him beating out Robbie Grossman for the fourth outfielder job -- or Byungho Park, indirectly (with Grossman as the DH and Shuck on the bench).


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Pic of the Week

Adam Jones takes a homer away from the Dominican's
Manny Machado in a signature moment from the World
Baseball Classic.

The 2017 World Baseball Classic lived up to the last part of its name, and that's not just the nationalist in me celebrating the United States finally taking the title. There were some really outstanding games and moments, not the least of them this catch by Adam Jones off his Baltimore teammate.

There are plenty of things I would change about the WBC given absolute control of the sport, but nobody has that, and the things I'm not fond of are necessary compromises to make the tournament happen.

And making the tournament happen is better than not having it.

Bring on the regular season. Let's see what it has to offer that can match Jones' catch.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A bad sign for the bullpen.

J.T. Chargois had
a 8.64 ERA in 8.2
innings this spring.
 
The Twins optioned out J.T. Chargois Friday, deleting from the roster -- at least for the beginning of the season -- the bullpen arm with the most upside.

Later Friday Michael Tonkin, who may be the beneficiary of Chargois' rough spring, fed his gopher again. Dick-n-Bert, broadcasting the game from Fort Myers, preferred to dwell on Tonkin's K-rate last season, and certainly there's nothing wrong with 80 strikeouts in 71 innings. There is with 13 homers in that same span.

I opined in an earlier post that if the Twins demote Chargois to avoid putting Tonkin on waivers, they were making a mistake. That opinion still stands.

But it may well be that Alex Wimmers -- removed at the start of the offseason from the 40-man roster and thus a non-roster invitee -- is ahead of Tonkin. He pitched before Tonkin did Friday. I may be even less enthused about Wimmers than I am Tonkin.

The Twins seem, again, headed in the direction of a bullpen of mediocre stuff. Bullpens are always a work in progress, and I can't claim that Chargois has pitched well this spring, but this is a bad sign.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The new disabled list

I've seen nothing more about the planned confab about the status of Glen Perkins' rehab. One of the reasons for it: The new labor agreement apparently requires the player to agree both to being put on the disabled list and to which list.

There are, I believe, three disabled lists: the seven-day concussion DL, the 10-day DL, and the 60-day DL. (It's possible that doing away with the 15-day DL involved merging the concussion list with the "regular" list, but I doubt it.) Besides the mandatory minimum durations, the significant difference is that the 60-day DL removes the player from the 40-man roster.

The Twins have already put Trevor May on the 60-day DL this week; this opened a 40-man spot that they filled by elevating Craig Breslow. I expect at least one more non-roster invitee to make the 25-man roster, and the Twins would probably like to open a 40-man slot by putting Perkins on the 60-day DL.

Probably. Let me emphasize: I have no inside information on this. I don't know the status of his rehab (and apparently the front office doesn't either). I don't know if Perkins is inclined to resist a mandatory two months on the sidelines.

But considering this new DL protocol in the abstract: This may have simply codified something that was already standard practice. Certainly there have been numerous occasions -- with the Twins and with other teams -- in which Player A sustains an injury, resists being DL'd, and the team goes along with that, going shorthanded in  the expectation that Player A will be able to take the field in a matter of days.

Sometimes that works. Sometimes it backfires.

I have the sense that the Twins were intentionally less patient with the self-diagnosis approach with Paul Molitor as manager than they were with Ron Gardenhire. They may not have that option now.

Presumably trimming the minimum stay on the DL by five days will make it easier for a player to accede to going on the shelf. (It should be noted: active roster, 10-day DL, 60-day DL -- they all get paid; nobody's getting a pay cut by going on the disabled list.)

But I can envision a player -- or, more likely, an agent -- trying to use the player's DL veto to leverage a new contract. You want my roster spot? It's gonna cost you. If and when that happens, it will probably be ugly.

Presumably this provision was something the union sought, and presumably it was on the basis that players are being DL'd unnecessarily. I suspect it will lead to more friction between teams and individual players.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The four Twins on Puerto Rico

Paul Molitor was making noises of impatience earlier in the week about getting the four Twins on Team Puerto Rico back into camp. And now that the tournament is over, the Minnesota manager will get his wish.

How did their absence from spring training affect the four? There are, no surprise, four answers.

For Eddie Rosario, the World Baseball Classic had to be a net plus. He played regularly in right field and he impressed with big hits and big throws. He left Fort Myers the presumptive left fielder; he returns the same, only having raised the question in the minds of many: Why is he the left fielder with an arm like that?

For Hector Santiago, it was neither a detriment nor a springboard. He pitched, oddly, exclusively out of the bullpen and fared well, although he did walk a few hitters -- which is Santiago's M.O. It's possible that the Twins would have liked him adding to his pitch count, but he left camp with a rotation berth and he returns with a rotation berth.

For Jose Berrios, it was possibly a minor impediment to his ambitions of making the opening rotation. He pitched twice -- a start against Italy in the first round and a relief outing in the championship game Wednesday night that showed both his impressive talent and his flaws.

That wasn't enough work to help his cause -- but his cause was probably doomed from the start. I doubt that the Twins ever wanted Berrios to open 2017 on the big club. Giving themselves means of filling the rotation without him was part of bringing the now-released Ryan Vogelsong to camp.

For Kennys Vargas, the WBC was unquestionably a problem. He was glued to the P.R. bench, and without playing time and at-bats not only could not make strides toward winning a job with the Twins but couldn't give scouts a chance to see him.  Byungho Park is now the front-runner for the DH job, and Vargas is almost certainly destined for Triple A once again.

For the Twins as a whole, their absences were probably beneficial. Other pitchers got a chance to show their stuff with the starts and innings vacated by Santiago, Berrios and Ervin Santana. The men competing for a reserve outfield job got more at-bats with Rosario gone.

And nobody got hurt, at least as far as we know. Overall, more good than bad for the Twins out of this.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Vogelsong's last note?

Ryan Vogelsong had
spent his entire career
with the Giants and
Pirates.

The Twins on Tuesday released veteran Ryan Vogelsong, a non-roster invitee, at his request after informing him that he would not win the fifth starter job.

This comes a week before his contractual opt-out date and theoretically gives him a better opportunity to find a new team. Which seems unlikely. He's 39 and had a 7.27 ERA this spring. The Twins signed him with an appreciation for his resume -- rotation piece for two World Series winners, an All-Star team -- and probably really wanted him to emerge with the job, but they have better options.

Still in the running for the rotation: Aldaberto Mejia, Jose Berrios, Tyler Duffey, Justin Haley and (supposedly) Nick Tepesch. Tepesch, another non-roster invitee, will get his first start of the exhibition season Thursday; that was to have been Vogelsong's.  Haley, the Rule 5 guy, will piggy back with Tepesch.

In other Twins pitching news Tuesday:

  • The Twins announced that Ryan O'Rourke would open the season on the disabled list. He's in competition for that is presumed to be one of two bullpen jobs ticketed for left-handers.
  • Non-roster invitees Jake Reed and Raul Fernandez were reassigned to minor league comp.
  • Berrios will not start tonight's WBC championship game for Puerto Rico against Team USA. It will be Seth Lugo of the Mets.  
  • Tuesday was Craig Breslow's contractual opt-out date. He's still in camp, and general manager Thad Levine said he had not been added to the 40-man roster. Presumably that will come.
  • Trevor May said on Twitter that he would have his Tommy John surgery today. 
  • Glen Perkins and the training staff is to meet with the decision makers this week to discuss the future of his rehab program.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rosario, Santiago and Mejia

Eddie Rosario watches his
game-ending sac fly head out to
center field at Dodger Stadium.
Paul Molitor claims that Eddie Rosario gets better in big moments -- "he likes the bright lights," the manager says of the player -- and while I am dubious about that kind of evaluation, Rosario did provide the game-winning RBI Monday night in the 11th inning to put Puerto Rico in the WBC championship game.

He also had a marvelous throw from right field in the bizarre top of the first, in which the Netherlands lost two baserunners before Wladimir Balentien homered. Rosario didn't nail a runner himself, but his throw held a Dutch runner at third and was followed by a Yadi Molina throw to first that caught a celebrating Jurrickson Profar off the base.

Rosario has a better throwing arm than Max Kepler does, which makes it odd that Kepler is the one playing right field for Molitor with Rosario in left. That may be balanced a bit by the fact that left field is a bit more spacious in Target Field (and in most other parks, for that matter).

I noted a few days ago that a Baseball America writer said Rosario was having a breakout WBC. He is having a good one, certainly.

---

Also having a good tournament is Hector Santiago, who threw 3.1 innings of relief Monday, allowing one run. In true Santiago fashion, he walked three in his outing. But he was also pumping his fastball at 93-95. a good bit better than his usual velocity as a starter.




All those innings came in relief, I'm a bit baffled that Edwin Rodriguez chose to start less experienced pitchers in this tournment, but it's worked so far; Puerto Rico is not only in the finals, it's undefeated. I'm not sure where this use pattern puts Santiago in terms of being ready for the regular season.

The WBC's pitch count rules make Satinago ineligible for Wednesday's championship game. Jose Berrios is a strong candidate to start against either Team USA or Japan. If he does, it will be the biggest game of his life so far.

---

In the humdrum of Twins camp. Tyler Duffey and Adlaberto Mejia split Monday's exhibition game at the Blue Jays camp. Duffey threw five shutout innings, easily his best performance of the spring, and Mejia threw the final four, allowing back-to-back solo homers but continuing to show impressive stuff. I still like Mejia for the final rotation spot.




Berardino went so far as to compare Mejia to the young C.C. Sabathia. Other than that they are both left-handed, large and too dark to have played in the pre-Jackie Robinson era, I ain't buying it. Sabathia was a more highly-regarded prospect 16 years ago than Mejia is. But if he has half the career Sabathia has, I'd sure take that.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Roster moves and new roles

A  newsy weekend out of Twins camp. Let's start with the lesser stuff:




The closest thing to a surprise among those eight Saturday demotions is Mitch Garver, who was supposedly in contention for the backup catcher job. But he didn't get much playing time in exhibitions. Priority one among the catchers appears to be giving Jason Castro a chance to learn this pitching staff, and they are giving veteran Chris Gimenez a real opportunity to make the team as a non-roster invitee. Garver has plenty of options, and he has a future.

On to the more important decisions:







Nick Gordon was taken with the fifth overall pick in 2014. Tyler Jay was taken with the sixth overall pick in 2015. These decisions suggest that both were overdrafts.

Start with Gordon, He's been a shortstop, but the decision to have him start splitting time at second base suggests that the Twins are skeptical of his defense at short, particularly his arm. The problem with Gordon as a second baseman: He's not a strong enough hitter for the keystone. He has almost no power.

I keep coming back to this: The Twins have not signed and developed a quality shortstop since setting up operations in Minnesota in 1961. Their best homegrown shortstop in more than a half century was probably Pat Meares.

Jay is a lefty drafted out of college, one of the many collegiate relievers the Twins have drafted in the last three years or so. The idea was that Jay has the pitches to be a starter. But he didn't make it through a full season last year and only threw 83 innings, and the new regime has pulled the plug on that notion.

It's possible for Jay to shoot quickly to the majors as a relief pitcher. Indeed, when the Twins signed in in 2015, when they were in a pennant race, there was chatter that he could get to the majors that year.

But they didn't spend the sixth overall pick with the intent of getting a reliever, even if he proves the equal of Glen Perkins at his best. They took him with the intent of getting a quality starter. And the very next player taken was Andrew Benitendi, who will be the Red Sox' starting left fielder this year.

Deron Johnson, the scouting director whose name is on the decisions to draft Gordon and Jay, won't be making the decisions this June. The Gordon and Jay selections may have had something to do with that.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Pic of the Week

Tim Tebow makes a diving catch during Monday's
Marlins-Mets exhibition game.

Tim Tebow, famous college quarterback, famous failed NFL quarterback, is trying to play baseball.

The Mets signed him, sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .194 with 20 strikeouts in 62 at-bats in between trips to do college football broadcasts for ESPN. This month the Mets have given him a few games in spring training. He will, apparently, be assigned to a minor league affiliate, but which one is unknown,

Whichever team he plays on, he's expected to be an attendance magnet. Whether that justifies giving playing time and at-bats to a 29-year-old nonprospect is ... well, I'm glad it's not the Twins doing this.

That's not a sneer at Tebow's persona or beliefs. It's a statement of practicality. If the minor league system is intended to develop future major league players, Tebow doesn't belong. The years when he could have been grown into a baseball player were spent playing football. Now he's merely a marketing gimmick.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A rough draft of a bullpen

We're a bit more than two weeks away from opening day. Let's try a rough draft of the opening bullpen:

Closer: Brandon Kintzler
Setup 1: Ryan Pressly
Setup 2: J.T Chargois
MR 1: Matt Belisle
LOOGY 1/MR 2: Craig Breslow
LOOGY2: Buddy Boshers
Long/mopup: Justin Haley

My long distance sense is:

1) Glen Perkins hasn't faced hitters yet and isn't close to being ready.

2) The absolute locks to be on the roster are Kintzler, Pressly and Belisle,

3) Breslow, who is not on the 40-man roster, entered camp with management wanting him to make the team. He's been effective with his new delivery, and I think he'll stick.

4) Haley got a start this week and may get another before the WBC contingent returns next week, but I doubt the Twins are bold enough to give a rotation berth to a Rule 5 pick. I assume they want to keep him, however,

5) Chargois has options, and that might work against him. He also has the biggest arm of the genuine bullpen candidates. If he gets shipped out to avoid putting somebody like Michael Tonkin on waivers, the Twins are making a mistake.

6) I count three genuine candidates for that second LOOGY spot: Boshers, Taylor Rodgers and Ryan O'Rourke. There's probably not a dime's worth of difference among them. I have no specific reason to pick Boshers for this guess, and no reason to pick against any of them.

Friday, March 17, 2017

BA's first mock draft

We are more than three months away from the baseball draft, with a lot of college and high school ball to be played, even in the warm weather states.

But on Thursday John Manuel of Baseball America issued that publication's first mock draft of the season. And since the Twins have the first pick, his projections start there.

This piece is best viewed as an introduction to the candidates for high selection and the issues facing the talent evaluators than as a hard prediction of the draft itself. Manuel's forecast -- that the Twins will take prep pitcher/shortstop Hunter Greene -- may very well be correct come June; he's been viewed as a front-runner for that distinction virtually since the 2016 draft closed. But there's a lot of slips, slides and helium between now and then.

And, perhaps, skulduggery. An interesting phrase from Manuel regarding San Diego and the third selection: "Everyone expects the Padres and GM A.J. Preller to try to do what it takes to push Greene down to them at No. 3 ..."  My interpretation is that the Padres are likely to make quiet promises of X money if Greene and his camp discourage the Twins and Reds from selecting him. Greene is from the San Diego area.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Kyle Glaser of Baseball America says Eddie Rosario is using the World Baseball Classic to emerge as a full-fledged regular.

Certainly the Twins outfielder -- playing right field for Puerto Rico rather than his accustomed left field -- is hitting a ton so far (6-for-11 with two doubles and a triple). It's worth noting, however, that most of Puerto Rico's games have been played at altitude.

Rosario is 25, and maybe he's ready to take the next step.

---

I am truly enjoying a series of videos the Twins have been posting this week, "the Escobar Name Game," in which Eduardo Escobar attempts to identify his teammates. This is Wednesday's, the position players segment, which isn't quite as funny as the pitchers (posted Tuesday):




Speaking of which:




---

Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press wrote about Glen Perkins.

The good news: He is throwing without pain.

The less good news: He is nowhere near major league velocity. Not yet, at least, and perhaps not ever.

Bottom line: He's destined to open 2017 on the disabled list.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Twins rotation and the WBC

It's hardly a crisis, but Paul Molitor this week hasn't anything close to his season opening rotation on hand.

Ervin Santana left camp to join the Dominican Republic team for the second round of the World Baseball Classic, and Hector Santiago and Jose Berrios were already with Team Puerto Rico. Toss in the season-ending injury to Trevor May, and the Twins are without two rotation locks and two primary candidates.

Not that Molitor is short on pitchers. Indeed, the absent ones have opened innings for a number of "lesser" candidates, specifically non-roster invitees Ryan Vogelsong and Nick Tepesch and Rule 5 pick Justin Haley. Vogelsong and Haley each drew their first spring starts this week, Vogelsong on Sunday, Haley on Monday.

May's injury in particular seems to have amped up the possibility of Vogelsong landing a rotation spot. The 39-year-old would seem to have limited upside and I'm not sure that his floor is very high, but the Twins seem to value his experience.

An interesting quote (via the Pioneer Press and Mike Beranadino) from Vogelsong:

"... I know there’s a competition, so there’s definitely a fine line of where you go, ‘I’m working on stuff but I need to get results too.’ I think the powers that be here are smart enough to see spin and pitches being executed and doing the things you need to do to win a ballgame.”
My translation of that: Vogelsong is taking the established veteran approach to spring despite knowing that he's not established. He's confident that the new front office will look beyond the spring training ERAs and examine the data gathered from their TrackMan system -- objective data on his pitches, the spin rates and the movement and location.

Will that be enough to get him the fifth starter job? My personal bias is for the guys with some growth potential, and that ain't him. I can't see Vogelsong as anything deeper than a placeholder.

---

Hector Santiago, as noted in the Monday print column, is working out of the Puerto Rican bullpen. Tuesday night he threw 2.2 shutout innings as Puetro Rico beat the powerful Dominicans 3-1. Santiago has now thrown 5.1 innings in the WBC, allowing one run.

My grasp of the pitching rules for the WBC is incomplete, but I believe Santiago has been burned for the rest of the second round. Berrios is to start against Venezuela in Puerto Rico's third game of the round.

---

This will be interesting to see play out: Ervin Santana had resisted the urge to play for the Dominicans, saying he wanted to focus on making his opening day start, but relented after the first round.

Reportedly he insisted that he be a starter -- he didn't want to go to San Diego to throw a couple innings of relief -- and the Twins apparently expected that he would be kept on their schedule so he remained on track to pitch on April 3, the Twins opening day.

That would have meant pitching Tuesday night. Instead, Carlos Martinez (St. Louis Cardinals) got the start against Puerto Rico. Santana is to start on Saturday against Team USA, which is as far off the schedule as he can be.

I don't know what Santana and the Twins were told before Santana agreed to play, but it's quite possible somebody thinks they were lied to. Tuesday was an off day for the Twins, and major league camp was closed, but Thad Levine issued a bland statement saying that he was sure the Twins could adjust things so Santana can start the opener.

And I think that's true. This isn't optimal, but the Twins should be able to work around it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The first cuts

The Twins on Monday shipped out half a pitching staff -- all them prospects who had no realistic chance at theopening day roster.

Optioned out: Felix Jose, Mason Melotakis, Fernando Romero and Randy Rosario.

Reassigned to minor league camp: Stephen Gonsalves and Aaron Slegers.

The difference being that the first four are on the 40-man roster, and the latter two were non-roster invitees.

Before the news of Trevor May's elbow injury led me to change plans, I had figured to write the Monday print column (which didn't see print on Monday after all) on "the pitchers who aren't there" -- two starting pitcher prospects who were taken above Gonsalves and Slegers in the same draft but clearly at this point aren't regarded well enough to merit big league camp time.

Kohl Stewart was the fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft. Gonsalves -- like Stewart a high schooler, unlike Stewart a left-hander -- went in the fourth round. He almost certainly would have gone higher but for a suspension that wiped out his senior season. Stewart's ERAs last year (split between High A and Double A) aren't bad, but his strikeout rates have been unimpressive, and particularly so in his 16 starts for Chattanooga.

Ryan Eades was the Twins' second round pick in 2013, a right hander out of LSU. Slegers, another college righty (Indiana) went in the fifth round. Last year Eades racked up a 4.61 ERA in Chattanooga. Slegers, at the same level, had a 3.41 ERA and more than 30 more innings.

Four pitchers taken in the first five rounds that year by the Twins, and the latter pair are looking better than the first two.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Santiago, Berrios and the Puerto Rican rotation

Jose Berrios -- as described in the Monday print column -- is among the competitors for the fifth spot in the Twins rotation.

Hector Santiago is not. The veteran lefty is a given. Indeed, as Paul Molitor set up his rotation at the start of Grapefruit League play, Santiago figures to pitch the second game of the season.

Both are pitching for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, and the Puerto Rican team went 3-0 in the first round of pool play and has advanced to the second round.

Santiago pitched in relief in Game 2, against Mexico, on Saturday. Berrios started Game 3, against Italy.

This would suggest that Puerto Rican manager Edwin Rodriguez views Berrios as a better starter than Santiago, but it's not necessarily so simple. Mexico, on paper, is a better team than Italy, certainly with a more potent lineup. And the pitch count rules in effect for the WBC, especially in the first round, make it almost impossible for a starting pitcher to work even five innings.

It's certainly plausible that Rodriguez set up his first round pitching with the notion that Italy was a softer opponent, and that he needed a a lefty starter to piggy-back Milwaukee's Jorge Lopez against Mexico.

Lopez is 24, right-handed, unproven in the majors -- and had a terrible 2016 season in Triple A. It's not easy for me to look at the stat lines and see why he ranks ahead of Santiago or even Berrios. For that matter, PR's Game One starter, Seth Lugo of the Mets, doesn't have Santiago's resume.

It will be interesting to see who Puerto Rico starts in Pool F, which includes the United States and the Dominican, with a fourth team to be determined with a tie-breaker today between Venezuela and Italy.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Pic of the Week

Team Israel coach Pat Doyle passes the "Mensch of the Bench,"
the unofficial mascot of the World Baseball Classic team.

Not much was expected of Israel's entry in the World Baseball Classic, but it stormed through Group A's round robin in Seoul undefeated.

And one appealing aspect, at least here, of this team of American Jews, a collection of over-the-hill major leaguers, prospects and suspects, is its sense of humor and self-deprecation. The "Mensch on the Bench" is an example. So too the t-shirts players have worn depicting a bat-wielding rabbi and the words "Jew Crew."

Of course, a key motivation for the WBC's existence is growing the game globally. It doesn't seem that a collection of Americans with "Israel" on their jerseys is much of a selling point in Israel.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A shortstop comment

A Mike Berardino tweet from Friday:




Well ...

Molitor has had Gordon in camp for about a month now, and between games and drills has certainly seen him throw more than I have. And the notion that Gordon may not have the tools for shortstop echo the commentary on Gordon in this year's Baseball America Prospect Handbook, so Molitor is not alone in this thinking.

But I am confident in this assertion: Gordon has a better arm than Jorge Polanco, and Molitor seems determined to fit that round peg into the square hole of shortstop.

Gordon isn't making the team this spring and never was in the running, and I wouldn't be surprised if he turns out to be among Monday's first dose of cuts. On the other hand, those cuts are expected to focus more on 40-man roster guys who aren't serious contenders for the opening roster (because if they get hurt while in big league camp, they go on the major league DL, and that's more expensive than the minor league DL). On that basis, Engelb Vielma would be a more likely demotion than Gordon.

But the playing time in exhibitions is going to go to Polanco, Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianaza, and maybe Danny Santana as well. These are the serious contenders for the starting job and the bench.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The WBC and job competition

The Twins minor league camp opened earlier this week, yet there have been no cuts from major league camp.

Blame (or credit) the World Baseball Classic, in two ways. First, the numbers in camp have already been reduced a bit by players leaving to join their national teams -- most prominently the quartet of Puerto Ricans (Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario, Hector Santiago and Kennys Vargas). Second, the now-concluded pair of exhibitions against Team USA and Team Colombia, for which the Twins supplied their rivals with a handful of players to supplement their rosters. Those games required extra bodies in camp.

With those games behind them, the decision makers may feel free to start making decisions.

Rosario's absence is interesting because he's expected to be the regular in left field, and now there's more playing time for the guys trying for the fourth outfielder role. Somewhat tied into that, too, is the DH job, for which Vargas is one of three primary candidates.

What connects the two is Robbie Grossman, who had a fine 2016 with the bat and a terrible one with the glove. He has, apparently, been a primary project for Jake Pickler, the new outfield coach, who has been working with Grossman on such basics as how to position his glove. This sounds more like something to teach Little Leaguers than a guy with more than 250 major league games on his resume, but ...

Anyway, the Twins would probably like their fourth outfielder to hit right-handed, as both Rosario and right fielder Max Kepler are left-handed and have shown some platoon difficulties in the past. Grossman is a switch-hitter but better from the right side. He might be the primary DH; he might be the primary reserve outfielder, especially if he can catch the darn ball. (He's not under any circumstances a likely center fielder, but both Rosario and Kepler can play there when Byron Buxton gets/needs time off.)

Then there's Drew Stubbs. The word Thursday was that, with the Twins slated to see a couple of left-handed starters today and Saturday, Stubbs was to be in the lineup to give Paul Molitor a chance to see him in a potential platoon role.




Stubbs, a non-roster invitee, has been a center fielder in the past, and it's possible that even at age 32  he's better there than Rosario or Kepler. But that's less relevant to his chances of making this team than how he looks at the plate against left-handed pitching. His bat, and specifically his tendency to strike out, has turned him from a young regular of promise to a veteran journeyman looking for a role. Some good at-bats today would help his cause. And with Rosario and Vargas off WBC-ing, he's going to get the chance.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Contemplating Danny Santana

Danny Santana
played just 43 innings
in the infield for the
Twins last season.
The Twins beat Team USA Wednesday night despite Danny Santana doing Danny Santana things at shortstop.

Earlier this spring Patrick Reusse opined that Santana was the Twins best option for the shortstop job, a conclusion I consider(ed) ridiculous. Santana gave a pretty good demonstration of why that's so Wednesday night, first by shying away from a foul pop, then with a two-base throwing error.

To be sure, Jorge Polanco didn't throw well either; Joe Mauer dug out a couple of his throws. But Polanco at least offers a better bat than Santana does.

Santana's hot 2014, when he hit .319 in 430 plate appearances, continues to delude some into believing he's a usable hitter. Since then he's hit .227 (and worse, OBP'd .259) in 535 PA, and I suspect there's more where that came from.

The Twins do not have an optimal shortstop candidate on hand. But they certainly have better ones than Santana.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Phil Hughes and the pursuit of a useable change

The Twins had a day off Tuesday. Phil Hughes did not. It was his turn to start, but with no exhibition game, he worked four innings, 59 pitchers, against Twins minor leaguers.

His fastball velocity sat, as it reportedly has in previous outings, around 90 mph. It's still fairly early in camp, and he's coming off surgery, so I don't know what to make of that. He might regain some velo. On the other hand, even in 2014 -- his career year to date -- he averaged a touch above 92 mph (according to the 2015 Bill James Handbook). When Hughes is right, he gets outs with movement and control, not with raw speed.

But the object of Tuesday's outing was the changeup. This has been a chronic thing since Neil Allen became the Twins pitching coach --- Hughes needs a changeup -- and almost half of Hughes' pitches Tuesday were changes.

I've argued before that for Hughes specifically, the pursuit of a changeup is fixing what ain't broke. He threw less than one changeup per game in 2014, and that was the best season a Twins right-hander has had at least since Brad Radke's heyday. It was also the season before Allen got the job. The next year, Hughes threw the change almost 10 percent of the time, and his results got worse. And last year the veteran's season was shortened by injury.

From Mike Bernadino's story on Tuesday's outing:

“He’s got to be a different guy, bring some different stuff to the table,” said Allen, who replaced longtime Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson after Hughes’ record-setting 2014 season. “Him throwing the change-up is going to be nothing but beneficial.”
...
"But we’ve got to make him change.”
 Allen has his blueprint for pitching success. Hughes' success in the past has been with a different style of pitching. The "we've got to make him change" line doesn't sit well with me.

In fairness to Allen, the thoratic outlet surgery may have added some urgency to the mission. It's possible that the missing 2 mph is gone for good, and that at age 30 Hughes does need to change who he is as a pitcher. I have my doubts about that, however.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Team Israel in the WBC

Spent a goodly chunk of my day off -- at weird hours, which is typical for me, as anybody paying attention to the time stamps on my posts might have figured -- watching Team Israel beat South Korea and Chinese Taipei in the first two games of the World Baseball Classic.

The two teams "expected" to emerge from Pool A at the start of round-robin play were South Korea and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Even Taiwan has a significant professional league to draw talent from.

But it's Israel with a 2-0 record and a leg up on reaching the second round. (KoN hasn't played yet.)

There is one actual Israeli resident on the Israeli squad. The rest of the roster is American Jews who qualify for Israeli citizenship, From a Houston Chronicle story on how the Israeli squad was assembled by a Astros scout who also serves part-time as Israel's general manager:

Israel offers citizenship to anyone who is a Jew, which the country qualifies as: the child or grandchild of a Jew, or the spouse of a child or grandchild of a Jew. Team Israel abides by the same laws for its players.

There are some Twins connections for Team Israel. Center fielder and leadoff man Sam Fuld played about a half season for the Twins in 2014; he didn't have a team in 2016, major or minors. Game One start Jason Marquis, who pitched (horribly) for the Twins in 2012, did have a team for a brief while in 2016, but the Reds released him after nine starts. Ike Davis, the DH and No. 3 hitter, is the son of Ron Davis, a relief pitcher remembered by Twins fans of a certain age with a mixture of fondness and loathing; Ike Davis was born in Minneapolis.